The 2012 NBA Draft order has been set! The Basketball Gods tipped their cap at Tom Benson, the new owner of the New Orleans Hornets, and gave that team the No. 1 pick in the derby. Finally, a reason to celebrate on Bourbon Street!
New Orleans' gain came at the expense of the Charlotte Bobcats (worst team ever, in case you'd forgotten) and the Washington Wizards. But elite prospects will be up for grabs at their spots, and the lottery range is flush with talent and also a guy named Meyers Leonard.
1. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS: ANTHONY DAVIS
The best thing about the Hornets winning the No. 1 overall pick in a season in which there is absolutely no question as to whom the No. 1 pick should be: like the Cavaliers a year ago, the team can focus on its second lottery pick: the No. 10 pick, courtesy of the Chris Paul trade.
2. CHARLOTTE BOBCATS: MICHAEL KIDD-GILCHRIST
Yes, the Bobcats really, really needed Anthony Davis. But they really, really need a small forward, too, and few recent prospects at that position stand brighter than MKG. Charlotte was able to see its greatest success (one playoff berth) with Gerald Wallace in place; MKG can be even more special down the road. His offense is imperfect, which means that Charlotte will likely struggle to score points (again), which means the Bobcats could be right back in this position next season. Which, in a perverse way, might not be a bad thing.
3. WASHINGTON WIZARDS: THOMAS ROBINSON
In my opinion, here's the keystone pick, the choice that puts everything else in order. The players available to Cleveland, Sacramento, Portland and the rest obviously depend on what the Wizards decide, but it also moves the specific positional markets. There are a lot of big men in the 3-10 range; if the Wizards dip their toe in, those could begin to dry up more quickly than expected. If they go with the best wing or guard available, everyone else is sort of forced to take a big man. It's quite a predicament!
I currently think they'll take Robinson, a high-character D.C. native who can rebound the Hades out of the ball, defend, score in the pivot and will never ever Blatche the team. New Traditions, y'all.
4. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: BRADLEY BEAL
The Cavs' own pick landed at No. 4 for the second straight season; it looks like the team may have made a mistake in 2011 by taking Tristan Thompson (rawer than sushi) over Jonas Valanciunas. But Thompson is nonetheless in place, as is Kyrie Irving, which means it makes most sense (absent the smart strategy of taking the best player available regardless of position) to take a two-guard or wing. In this mock, that means Bradley Beal or Harrison Barnes. I think Barnes' hype will bounce back strong after the combine, but Beal is seen by many (and perhaps the Cavs) as the better prospect right now.
5. SACRAMENTO KINGS: HARRISON BARNES
Harrison Barnes is the anti-Tyreke Evans on offense. Reke can score plenty, but pretty much only by driving to the rim. Barnes can score plenty ... except he can't drive to the rim. It's a nice match, especially when you consider DeMarcus Cousins' inside-out game, Isaiah Thomas' pick-and-roll talent and the absolute cavernous hole the team's small forward position has become.
6. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: JOHN HENSON
Nice trade, Nets! New Jersey picked up 16 games of 14-7 production from Gerald Wallace -- production I can't imagine has any impact on Deron Williams' decision-making -- for this pick. While the explanation was that the Nets' decision-makers only liked three players (hence the top-3 protection), that's not a good explanation: there are scenarios in which one of those guys (Robinson) slips to No. 6. Ah well.
The Blazers need a point guard, but a good prospect should be available at No. 11. Portland needs bodies up front, and Henson's a helluva prospect and a good complement to LaMarcus Aldridge.
7. GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: JARED SULLINGER
Also known as "better David Lee." Sullinger would give the Warriors depth up front (a foreign concept to long-suffering Golden State fans) and would certainly make tanking the end of the season well worth it. Note: I see you, Andre Drummond. I see you and I'm not ignoring it. It's just ... you know ...
8. TORONTO RAPTORS: PERRY JONES III
Perhaps more than any other player in the lottery range, Jones The Third desperately needs a coach who can teach him the game and work with him closely to help him achieve his potential. I believe in Dwane Casey to do that. He also happens to be a much-needed defender (assuming Casey can smooth out the rough edges on that end).
9. DETROIT PISTONS: ANDRE DRUMMOND
I'm eager to hear where Drummond's floor ends up. If he impresses Geoff Petrie with raw talent, it could be No. 5 at the Kings. If he has a less successful pre-draft run, it could be Detroit at No. 9 ... or worse. He's a big ol' mystery right now. I'm not sure Lawrence Frank (cue the Brook Lopez drop) is the right coach, or that Drummond is the right partner in crime for Greg Monroe. But remember that the Pistons desperately wanted Cousins in '10, despite the warts. A similar situation could be in place, and if Drummond drops, it could end up paying huge dividends for a not-bad Detroit team.
10. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (via Minnesota): DAMIAN LILLARD
The free agent point guard market is notoriously tough every year; Dell Demps, New Orleans' GM, has to understand this, and should respond accordingly by picking up one of the two top PGs expected to be available in this range. Lillard, Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. That's not a bad rebound haul.
11. PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: KENDALL MARSHALL
The Blazers might need to start praying one of the two point guards is still on the board here. I'm not sure whether Lillard or Marshall is the better prospect -- we've obviously seen more of Marshall, and know his supporting cast inside and out, especially as compared to Lillard. There seems to be a pretty steep drop-off between these two and the next bunch, at least in perception.
12. MILWAUKEE BUCKS: TYLER ZELLER
Despite the overwhelming hype of the national champion Kentucky Wildcats, I think that North Carolina gets more lottery picks in -- the deciding factors are Zeller (who could fall down to the late teens) and Terrence Jones.
13. PHOENIX SUNS: AUSTIN RIVERS
As if the end of the Steve Nash era won't be jarring enough, a volume scorer from Duke added to the mix will provide a nice splash of cold water. "In case you'd forgotten over the past decade of success, this is what it's like to suck, Phoenix."
14. HOUSTON ROCKETS: MEYERS LEONARD
I remain convinced that a man named Meyers Leonard must be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft. Since Indiana isn't in the lottery ...
Stay tuned to SBNation.com and subscribe to our YouTube channel for full 2012 NBA Draft coverage. You won't regret it!